Tekla Podcast #7 – Where Tekla Leaders are Going? AI, VR, AR… (Ricardo Farinha from Sweco)

24 mins read + 1 Hour 21 min interview

Ricardo Farinha, Chief Technology Officer at Sweco, joins us on today’s Tekla podcast episode. Sweco is the leading engineering and architectural consulting company in Europe. It has operations in 14 different nations, including Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Germany, and Finland. Every year, it completes projects in 70 different countries.

This article will primarily focus on how Tekla is used in Sweco. We will observe its implementation and operation. Along with many insights about Tekla structures, there will also be details about the consulting firm. The highlight of this podcast was the demonstration of the Randselva bridge in Norway. It will be the biggest bridge ever constructed without the use of 2D drawings.

There’s a lot to learn about Tekla from Ricardo Farinha. He is the director of technology at Sweco and knows a lot about structural BIM software and industry work thanks to his years of experience.

Tekla Podcast #7 - Where Tekla Leaders are Going? AI, VR, AR... (Ricardo Farinha from Sweco)

or listen to it in audio format here:

Don’t have time to watch the whole pod? Skim the questions and answers summary in a written format below! 👇

Why do you & Sweco co-work with other companies (also your competitors)?

A single organization cannot fix all the issues because some are too large. You can’t handle these cross-border, cross-company, and cross-discipline problems by yourself. As a result, we must work together with others to solve big problems. We discovered this approach a long time ago. Today, we frequently gather in various business consortiums to collaborate and resolve issues.

Sweco tries to incorporate what we learn from others into our processes. Since I began working in this field 14 years ago, Finland’s work pattern has always been the same. It is integrated into this culture and produces successful results.

As an example, BEC is an organization in Finland that defines the standards (BEC2012 Modeling instructions for designing prefabricated elements_V103) for precast construction. We have sat together with different companies, manufacturers, designers, and universities for a couple of years to determine how design is carried out in Finland.

Now, you get the same result from different design companies. This makes standardizing and automating processes simpler. This makes things easier for everyone in the whole chain. Here in Finland, this kind of collaboration is fairly common. As I already stated, I’ve worked in this field for 14 years, and things have always been this way.

Additionally, this standardization raises construction quality and is both affordable and sustainable. For instance, you don’t need 20 different precast walls if you standardize how they’re made. Instead, you may solve the majority of the cases by working with just three of them.

How should a startup company successfully implement Tekla?

Training is fundamental. Have a good system to train your workforce. Before starting to automate or build on top of the software, you need a good training system. Also, you need an experienced team that can teach others and slowly push everyone to a higher level.

Different companies have different strategies. You need to find the one that works best for you. Find a training strategy that will help people improve all the time and make them faster and better. Client satisfaction is necessary. They will be happy if you provide good results.

Sweco is a decentralized organization with close to 3500 departments. And all of them work like independent companies, even though they are part of the same company. So yes, we need people who learn the software and teach it to others. 

This decentralized communication method does wonders for us. We only need a separate BIM team to guide these super users, who will then pass on their knowledge to others.

How do you get engineers more involved with Tekla?

Our industry is renowned for being resistant to change. One approach that we have especially for creating a new automization tool is that we involve users early on and get feedback. The more they get involved, the more excited they get and want to use it. 

This will make the work not only interesting for them, but they will also start giving more ideas, which can be beneficial. This is something we have been doing so far and will continue to do so.

Also, I would recommend starting with small steps and always trying to measure the added value it will bring to your company. Don’t just go for a three-year project without having a plan and measurable milestones in mind. See what processes and automation your Tekla users are using and make usage estimations. 

How to improve the efficiency of Tekla Structures to get more work done faster?

Here at Sweco, we don’t have conventional software engineers. There’s a blend of different fields in one guy. For example, there’s a software engineer who is also a civil engineer working on real projects. 

We don’t only have software engineers who don’t have domain knowledge. Rather, we have people who know how to code and also have knowledge about structural engineering.

As for the development benefits, one of the main aspects is Finland’s high cost per hour. Just 100 kilometers south of Finland, you will find the price to be half as high. Thus, we always need to be on our toes and keep improving the quality of our work. 

Sustainability is another area where we need to work in a smarter way. Finding solutions that can help our team reinvent the way things are designed is the motive.

Technology has helped speed up processes that before took a lot of time. Now you can work faster and then think about other objectives. For instance, you have time to think of more outside-of-the-box sustainable solutions for factories, schools or hospitals.

What is the total size of the development teams, and how are other teams divided in Sweco?

I am unable to give an exact number for the total size of the teams because there are so many. As I mentioned before, we are a decentralized organization. The teams I have been working with for last few years within Finland are

  • BIM development which is working for example on Tekla Structures environment.
  • Data science.
  • Digital services. They try to make innovative solutions to improve the way projects are delivered.

The teams I’ve been working on for the past year have ranged from 10 to 14 people. Besides, we work with development in-house and with other partners outside of Sweco.

More teams work on projects. For example, if we have a massive hospital project, the project team handles the design of the project. They also have a part-time jobs to enhance the design process itself. All the teams remain in touch with each other and form a connected community.

Furthermore, if I talk about Tekla, then we built a core Tekla Structures team about eight years ago. Their main job was to support and help all the Tekla users. Currently, this team is handling 1000-1200 Tekla users across Sweco. They connect Tekla super users, organize events, invent new processes and teach people about settings, drawings, tools, and so forth. 

To sum up, their full-time job is to keep the Sweco Tekla environment up and running. They standardize the way things are done, so we don’t have hundreds of distinct ways of doing things. Having a certain standard makes the work easier and more convenient.

How do you get engineers input for the development?

Our people know about the teams and they know where to contact them. And there are some forms where you can present your ideas. Surprisingly, many people contribute ideas and as they see them put into action. This boosts their confidence. Another aspect is to educate the engineers about the developments for their benefit.

So whenever someone gives an idea, we include the person in the designing, automation, or tool-handling domains. They are always learning as a result. Now, the next time they ask a question or offer an idea, they do it better because of their previous experience.

It has been working pretty well for us. Now, everyone knows how to use Tekla Structures. And even if they don’t know, they can ask their colleagues for help.

How do you communicate in Sweco? Do you use newsletters or chats?

As I said before, we have 1000-1200 users across Sweco. Different departments have different methods of communicating. There are monthly technology newsletters. Furthermore, there is a feedback option inside Tekla itself. It provides automatic feedback, such as “Did you know about this or that?”

Besides, there’s training to help everyone. When we have a big project that involves the use of new technology. Now we will give certain training to the engineers to help them. A lot of development is done inside the project.

Moreover, there are some things that you can’t do in Tekla. You also can’t do them by hand because it will take a lot of time. So anyway, we have to build something and forward it to the development team. They will then derive a scaleable solution that we could use in future projects too.

Tekla Structures Artificial Intelligence and Data Science project that Sweco is working on.

Whenever you go to a technology conference, AI and data science are always hot topics. Here I will show you some slides that I present at these conferences. Tekla Structures were used for this project. The first slide shows you a real project – the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. We were assigned the task of extending the stadium so that it has a roof cover.

What I want to show is that in the current times, we have a lot of automation tools. Tekla Structures, to begin with, comes with thousands of in-built parametric tools. But engineers can also ask the coding team to build some tools for them and some companies (manufacturers) also prefer building their own tools and sending them to us to design with.

Without using these parametric tools, it would be very frustrating and slow to design in Tekla. There will also be many chances for errors.

The next slide shows you that in 2020 1,200 people were using Tekla in Sweco. Second, it shows that they have used 10,000 unique parametric tools. It even shows the tools were inserted 17 million times across 6,000 projects.

How to find the right tools in Tekla?

If we build a new tool, then how can we share it with 1,200 people spread throughout Sweco? We first have to filter the information and then pass to the users ONLY the information they need.

For this purpose, we built a system that extracts data from Tekla. When the designers are designing a structure, we extract all the information about how they are building it. We mined over 18,000 projects in 2020, and these data miners have been active for 900 years.

Then, we grouped people using the extracted data and Machine Learning. For instance, if you are a precast engineer who designs block buildings, then you will be grouped with people who do similar work. Similarly, if you are a timber designer, you will be grouped with other timber designers. It helps categorize the data.

Now when you come to the website, you’ll see, for example, that there are four people like myself (doing similar projects) from different regions who are using certain tools that I have never used before. These tools could be relevant to me. I don’t want to go through the 10,000 tools we used before and pick one from there. Rather, I will have a small (e.g. only 41) relevant tools category from which I can choose those that suit my work.

The systems can become even smarter. If you are working on a very specific project, it will reduce the data even more, letting you select tools that exactly match your work. Instead of showing these 41 tools, we could show only the 4 most relevant tools for your current project or situation.

And we see big software companies adopting these smart technologies. You can say that this concept of data science is still somewhat new, but it is present in many companies.

I have been seeing these advancements at technology conferences, especially in the AC industry. Again, it cuts down the huge amount of information to the details that are relevant to your work.

Making specific standards is also advantageous. For instance, if you have 10 engineers working on the same problem, you will have 10 different solutions. But if you standardize things, the chances of variability in solutions decrease. It also helps in making sustainable solutions and speeding up the process.

The design phase has the biggest impact on the project’s full life cycle and it`s still the cheapest to make the changes.

In short, we have to collect the data, analyze it, extract the information, and then target it efficiently.

What kind of information do you focus on while using Tekla?

Our main focus is on HOW the users use Tekla Structures. We always look to see if there are any certain patterns when creating a design. Let’s say designing a wall in a specific manner can increase its sustainability. So, we might ask the users in the future to reproduce this wall in another project or even improve it.

Few companies use historical data to recreate products, even though it is very important. Imagine you have a three-year project. Now you start making its BIM, and finally, you have the final product. 

But where are all the steps you went through over these three years? They are gone. People don’t save this data. Contrarily, we are looking to save this information. This is the brain of a structural engineer, right there in the database.

From this historical data, we create template files for specific objects to increase the design speed or decrease the amount of steel. You can also measure and see if this change helped or hindered your next project. 

You may initially have a minor impact, such as using 5% less steel or becoming 10% faster. But again, it is due to the historical data that you saved.

Of course, the workers would remember what they did on a project. But if we can somehow digitize this silent knowledge from people’s heads so that everyone would get the benefit. If you look at it, there’s now your own knowledge and the combined knowledge of others. This is like a superpower and this collaboration will help in making better designs.

How do you make the solutions presentable and visualizable for everyone?

The job is to make tools that are easy to use and not complex. Try to split them into smaller ones. For example, you want to design a full truss. Making small tools that can design particular parts of the truss is now better than making a tool that makes the entire truss. You can always have a master tool that combines all of the smaller ones.

Making user-friendly tools and processes is the way to go in Sweco. We can see that people are using these tools and giving feedback for further improvement. So we are constantly learning.

Which requires more effort? Modeling or making the drawings?

I can’t tell the exact numbers, but I think the ratio is 70:30, with 70 being the modeling side and 30 being the drawing side. But it wasn’t always like this. The 70:30 ratio currently exists because we have a lot of automation on the drawing side.

We don’t just work on simple 3D models. We have building information (e.g. statuses) models, which take a lot of time. Also, we have some projects for which there are no drawings. One of our drawing-less projects won the Trimble Global BIM award.

Have you worked with Virtual- or Augmented Reality?

As of now, we are developing and working in this field. We have developed some things ourselves, but we are also in collaboration with companies like Trimble and VTT. The idea still requires a lot of research and development. However, some teams have used Trimble Sitevision to see a 3D model on the project site in Norway.

We are also trying to use mobile devices to see 3D models through their cameras. This helps people see the project clearly and investigate particular parts of it.

How well have VR and AR worked up to this point?

We are already using them in drawing-less projects. If we take the example of the Randselva bridge, it had many parts with complex structures. And since we didn’t have any drawings, we needed these systems to zoom in and see the structure.

We didn’t only use it for this project. We previously used it in the E6 project two to three years ago. The job was to design 40 bridges without drawings, and it was Norway’s first drawing-less project. We have been using this technology since then. When you don’t have drawings, you require these systems to investigate building information models.

It is the longest bridge in the world to be built in Norway without any drawings. I have been working on the development side of this project. Sweco people from different countries are playing their parts in the design.

It is primarily a Tekla model, but we also used other parametric design software. The bridge is 643 meters long, and its highest point is 13 meters high. Fully detailed model with 20,000 rebars.

Randselva Bridge Tekla BIM Awards

Randselva Bridge Case Study (closing the gap on drawing-free design)

As I mentioned before, this is not our first drawing-less project. We have learned a lot from our previous projects, and it helped in building this bridge model. We are entering the phase where all the information is in a 3D model instead of drawings. The design of this particular project is finished, and now it is being built.

What was the reason for not making any drawings for this project?

I have been personally involved in only two drawing-less projects. The first one was the E6 project, where we had to make 40 bridges. In that case, the deadline was strict, and we had to rush things. There was no time to make drawings. Therefore, Sweco proposed this new, drawing-less workflow. It turned out to be very good, and we had more projects like that.

I am not sure why there was no drawing for the Randselva project. Although, I believe it was again due to a strict deadline. And I also think it was the demand of the contractors.

What were your biggest lessons from the first drawing-less project?

We learned how to communicate with the stakeholders. I was on the technical side of the project, building small tools and doing automation. But others said that communication was the biggest improvement while doing the first project.

Secondly, the project didn’t have any drawings, but it sure had parametric designs. If we change something in the geometry of the bridge, then there’s a script that automates part of the design.

Here, 95% of the piles are parametric. So, if there’s a change, 95% of piles will change automatically. Similar is the case with concrete, reinforcement, tendons, and details. A certain percentage of work in these categories was done using parametric designs. 

Without this technology, it will take a lot of time. Parametric design speeds up the process. Without this technology, if you want to change the raw geometry in the middle of the project, then it will be impossible to do so. You’ll have to start over.

So, these technologies have a huge role in designing the best models.

What kind of software do you use for parametric design?

In this project, it was Grasshopper. Usually, we use multiple software programs. For instance, we use Dynamo for Revit models and Grasshopper for Tekla. There are more software programs we use that are not mainstream. But in the Randselva bridge project, Grasshopper was used.

Parametric Design Specialists in Sweco

A complex project requires more effort. You need conventional software engineers for Tekla OpenAPI plugins. But for parameter designs, we have normal people, engineers, and architects, all of whom are using the software. So now we have parametric design specialists. 

Back in the day, we only had software engineers. These specialists support the company’s development needs. Moreover, it is easier to train these people than software engineers.

A software engineer studies for five years at a university gets two years of experience and then learns how to code properly. The parametric design software, on the other hand, is easier for people without software development skills.

As projects become more difficult and technology advances, these parametric and computational design specialists become valuable resources. Not only for only complex structures, but we use this technology also for small automations that give massive results when combined. This full automation system includes a lot of blocks and scripts.

What is the key to implementing and using Tekla successfully?

Training and empowering people is what will work for anyone. Also, giving people time to learn new things like parameter design will be beneficial. Another thing is to build communities where people with similar ideas can meet and learn together. Afterward, they can start teaching others and this way raise the whole company level. This has shown massive results for us.

When you see that Tekla Structures out-of-the-box basic functionality or tools are not enough anymore for you, you can also form a development team to design company-standard tools for you. I’ll recommend always starting small and measuring to see the results. People like to see numbers. If you can show the investments and benefits, it can motivate others. Like you had 18,000 projects, used the tools 17 million times, and the client’s satisfaction rate is higher now.

Also, try to collaborate with others. That’s something that has worked very well for us. You won’t find everything on the Internet. Sometimes you have to ask someone who is doing similar work to find a solution together.

This is a 10 trillion-dollar industry per year. Seven percent of the world’s working population works here. Therefore, we need to unite and solve the problems together.

Can engineers do their engineering projects and at the same time develop company systems/tools?

Yes, it can work to an extent. However, it will affect your full-time job. For example, if you are doing 80% of the work on the project, then you can give only 20% to the other task. The top management has changed its mind. Previously, people saw development as a cost, but now they see it as an investment for the future.

Still, there are people with multiple titles but the same work hours. The management, however, reduces their main job hours to let them work with the development team. Be that as it may, you don’t want to overstress your workforce, or they will simply leave.

That’s why we maintain a good and friendly working environment in Sweco. Besides, we are always teaching and educating people, so they are constantly learning. We are like a second family here. This is the way things are done in the Nordic region.

Innovative companies attract more better employees

The younger workforce, involving the millennials and generation Z, needs a mission to join a company. Boomers were the opposite. They wanted to remain with a single company all their lives. It isn’t like this anymore. Besides, education will change in the future, and one will have to learn different skills to be on top.

There are countries still adopting BIM as the technology keeps moving. Everyone will need to reskill themselves in the future. People are already being trained this way to keep improving. 

An iPhone will have 50,000 more apps five years from now, and people will be buying it only to remain up-to-date.

Our industry is quite resistant to change. But I wish I had a time machine to go forward in time and see how they will change when these younger workforces arrive in 10-20 years.

What are the future plans of Sweco with Tekla?

I am the director of technology at Sweco Findland, so my role is not software-specific. But still, I know we will continue with automation and keep improving our workforce. Another job will be to keep finding smarter ways to share knowledge with others.

So, doing smart work, improving quality, and creating sustainable solutions are the plans.

How do you see the future of the construction industry?

I can’t talk about the construction industry worldwide. The reason is that I don’t have enough knowledge about work in Asia and the US. But in Europe, you’ll find mainly automation

Besides, companies are looking to enhance their processes. Some countries and companies are a bit behind, but their direction is the same.

The future is of building information models. There will be no more 2D drawings in the future. The machines will do the heavy computations while the humans work on creativity. We will get information from the machines and work in accordance. That’s how I see the future. 

For me, climate change is a reality. Construction industries account for 40% of total carbon emissions and 25-40% of energy consumption. Using these new technologies and systems and collaborating together, we can save our planet. I hope we can derive solutions for the problems that have been in the industry for years.

Any last words, recommendations, or wishes?

I do have a request for the listeners. If you are working on similar projects, then do connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/ricardo-farinha-6852b321/ and we’ll chat about it. These are some of the issues that we need to solve together. No one country, company, or individual can fix everything. Share your ideas and the work you have been doing in your company.

Listen to Ricardo another interview about AI in another podcast https://aec-business.com/ai-gives-engineers-superpowers-an-interview-with-ricardo-farinha/




Episode #5 of our Tekla Podcast features Karlis and Robert from Alto 4.0, which is a digital expertise and solutions company. Or, in simple terms, a software development office. They have a solid track record of creating and putting into practice solutions that have a beneficial impact on the economy and are known for delivering value to industrial firms through process digitalization. They are a part of UPB, the 30-plus-year-old Latvian company offering precise solutions for complex constructions.

Even though Alto 4.0 has a lot to offer, the Alto ERP system and its usage and functionality are the major focus of this article. The first guest, Karlis Zarins, is the head of sales and business development. Secondly, we have Roberts Dobelis onboard, who is also from the same department of the same company.

Watch the whole interview video here:

Tekla Podcast #5 - Alto ERP for precast fabricators (Kārlis and Roberts from UPB)

or listen it in audio format here:

Don’t have time to watch the whole pod? Skim the questions and answers summary in a written format below! 👇

What is the Alto ERP System? What is it Designed for?

Karlis: Long story short, the program is enterprise resource planning software that was created especially for the Precast concrete sector. We also have two further variations that are appropriate for manufacturers of steel and aluminum facades. But in essence, it’s a full solution for effectively, accurately, and confidently managing the entire project life cycle.

So we use Tekla and integrate with it. However, once the design is complete in Tekla and you have something that can be manufactured along with some supporting drawings, the life cycle in our system begins. The process is completed with assembly or installation.

Alto ERP helps better control the processes from manufacturing until elements are placed in their proper location in a building. It will reduce the number of calls, emails, and turmoil that can result from doing this manually. That is the software’s core functionality.

Why did Alto 4.0 develop its ERP system and not buy an already-used one? Couldn’t the latter have been cost-effective?

Karlis: Our mother company, UPB, was looking for a way to better manage the construction process about seven to eight years ago. Unfortunately, they were unable to find anything suitable. There were some sizable ERP systems created for FMCG manufacturing, but they were all conventional financial systems. Not only were we interested in an accounting system, but also one that would facilitate the building process. We didn’t think any options were viable at the time, as I already said. The UPB management decided to develop its software as a result because they were highly creative and knowledgeable about the digital world.

Without a doubt, the cost is higher than if we had opted for an already-built ERP system. But once more, neither system was satisfactory. Now, there are some other software on the market, but still, for precasters there is a very small selection to choose from. The fact that purchasing a system is preferable is the driving force behind our current commercial availability. We have put so much into it that it would be pointless to keep it to ourselves. That’s why Alto ERP is commercially available now.

You must plan the production of your precast facility and ensure that you have access to the most recent drawings. At the same time, getting this information efficiently straight out of Tekla Structures. The choice becomes extremely limited or nearly nonexistent after that, and that’s where Alto ERP comes in. Then, we essentially try to address these particular difficulties. It’s a very specialized field, but this software fits it perfectly.

Who is best suited to use the Alto ERP software, and what advice would you give to businesses that do not have an ERP system?

Karlis: It is ideal for precast fabricators. Besides, this software is the best fit for those doing project-specific items. Precast panels, stairs, sandwich walls, and a host of other structures are among them. It’s less appropriate for those producing repetitive elements that are similar to off-the-shelf products, produced in terms of just having the appropriate quantity in stock. The reason is the loss of functionality. 

Robert: The second question is a good transition from the point Karlis made when he said our system has features that other general ERP systems don’t have, i.e., access to most current drawings and possibility to production and manufacturing scheduling that you won’t find elsewhere. Furthermore, businesses face difficulties because everything is not centralized. It is a result of their use of Excel sheets or common ERP systems. This suggests that you will be exchanging project-related emails and texts much more frequently. It obviously wastes time and money.

How does the ERP System coordinate with everything from production design to logistics installations?

Karlis: Knowing the operations that take place in the background will probably make the software seem complex to you. However, it adheres to the same principles that are necessary to complete any task. I would categorize them as three Ws. What you need to do, who needs to do it, and when you need to do it. Afterward, our system comes into play. It has a cloud feature. As a result, any information you enter is accessible to everyone, and any changes are noted. That’s how the coordination happens.

Silos-based operations cause delays in production design and logistics setup. You are unable to execute the original plan. There are always some delays here and there. So, we have all the information about the element, whether it is a sandwich wall, a panel, a column, etc. We always associate its assembly, installation, shipping, manufacturing, and design dates with it. And if there are any changes, everyone gets a notification. Alto ERP can handle a number of big projects at once. Manually doing it would take a lot of manpower and effort. You should leave this task to a computer.

How does the company do its work planning with the ERP system?

Karlis: So, when planning, we keep the end in mind. For instance, the second-floor column needs to be finished by mid-July. We now begin to compute backward. The specific element is chosen, and a deadline is provided by the assembly and installation managers, who are in charge of the project’s overall schedule and delivery. Now everyone gets a notification.

Consider that the item is located at a location north of Sweden, a port away from the logistics hub. We need two weeks for shipping. So, by the first of July, it must leave the warehouse. One week each for production and sourcing the specific concrete. The internal approval of the final design will then take a few more weeks. To sum up, we start with the assembly and calculate backward from there.

How do they deal with the unpleasant surprises (e.g. something gets broken) that trouble the work?

Karlis: Surprise is the opposite of planning. You knew what needed to be done and who was going to do it and when it had to be done. However, if anything changes and anyone isn’t aware, this is what I call a surprise. So, in our system, whenever a change happens, everyone gets a notification. This way you can eliminate surprises and address these plan changes.

Robert: In addition to the above points, Alto ERP also has a mistake-reporting feature. If any problem occurs, like a defective element arriving on site or there being safety issues, the person can report them. He or she can make a claim and notify the responsible department to fix the issue. It can also include pictures to digitize everything.

How do the Technical and Transportation teams cooperate? What is the role of Industrial Scanners?

Robert: We consider ourselves fortunate that even non-technical guys can use the system. It would be a hassle to check everything with a computer in the factory periodically. The industrial scanner steps in at this point. It is a specific scanner that allows us to scan the QR codes of the elements. You can get the QR code for any element by adding it to our ERP system. To access the element’s updates in the factory, you must locate it and scan the code.

Scanning it will allow inserting or getting information about its quality control, loading time, arrival time, and so on. We also take pictures using the same scanner along the way. So, that’s basically how we do quality control.

While loading the elements onto the truck, we can scan the QR code of the actual delivery. Following that, we can see all elements that needed to be loaded onto the truck, as well as their locations. So, you won’t be running around your warehouse, which is full of other elements as well.

Our system will alert you that something might be wrong if you attempt to add an element that isn’t supposed to be on the truck. Now, the scanning procedure can be repeated when the truck pulls up to the location or site to make sure the right product has been delivered. While assembling, you can repeat the process and inform everyone of all the updates.

Do any problems occur with the QR codes where they can’t be scanned because they are damaged or being under concrete?

Karlis: Something occurs every time. It is simply inevitable that nothing will happen to the items as you transport them 500 kilometers in an open truck. However, I would phrase the query as follows: What else, besides the QR code? How would you then know what’s on the truck? What’s the alternative?

We can access from the system to the delivery plan as a backup in case the QR code sticker is damaged for some reason. Overall, there are always advantages and disadvantages. In our case, the benefits outweigh the cons that appear in some rare cases.

How does the company ensure every process, from fabrication to transportation, goes well and according to plan?

Karlis: If we consider it from the perspective of the customer, who is the person purchasing or whose home is being built, they always desire the highest quality. And from the investor’s perspective, it is your duty to complete the task on time and with good quality. 

It’s great that each of the departments—logistics, manufacturing, and design—has its own internal quality controls. The only challenge with big construction projects is getting everyone on the same page. The secret is synchronization. The team will deliver on time if their coordination is strong. Once more, the three Ws are important. Who does what by when?

So as you can see, managing such large projects requires juggling many balls simultaneously. This would have been incredibly challenging if not for our Alto ERP system. The software unites everyone.

Rather than focusing on individual performances, the goal is to get the team to work as a unit. Therefore, I recommend this ERP system to businesses that are just beginning to recognize complexity. You feel the pressure when there is a need for a lot of coordination among several ongoing projects. Yes, disorganization allows you to get the job done, but it will only work in the short run.

Demonstration of the Alto ERP software

Robert: As you would imagine, the system is complex. It has many features that won’t be able to show in one sitting. So, I will explain some of the higher-level ones and how the project life cycle moves. 

Firstly, the main dashboard, where you have all the notifications we told you about.

Projects at the bidding stage

You can insert projects base info with preliminary cost estimations. Everyone with access can see this information with the status if the project has been won or lost.

Overview of ongoing projects

The projects you have won, you can easily add to this section. You can view all of the projects and learn more about them. There’s an option to see the client’s information and calender about the delivery dates. There are many other options to explore and information to add. You can use this section as a document management system.

Assembly planning

Elements come from Tekla to Alto ERP system. After that, we don’t add them to the assembly plan manually by choosing elements from the list. Rather, we use our interactive IFC model. Simply select the elements and the assembly date for the selected elements. 

Elements list

In the Elements list, all the elements are color-coded. The purple color indicates that the concrete element has already been assembled. The light green ones have been designed. The other colors show other details that indicate how far each element is in the process.

Clicking on a specific element will provide you with its basic information, along with its DWG and PDF. Since we use the LOD standard 400 of Tekla, the engineers can add additional details to the element. For instance, what type of concrete should be used, what reinforcement is required, and so on. It helps with the manufacturing process.

It is very important here that you can always see the latest up-to-date information, but just in case, all the revisions are also stored behind the curtains.

The Alto ERP system has built-in machine learning. The more projects you do and the more elements there are with the information, the more accurate elements automated estimations are. Alto ERP finds the most similar elements from the past for each element and estimates current element production time and cost based on this real.


This feature allows planners to include relevant data for each delivery. Clicking on any delivery will show the type of elements that will go on the truck, their weight, size, and other details. You can also take printouts for the delivery drivers. We use QR codes and scanners to update the statuses once we unload and assemble elements at the site.

Overviews of the project

Going back to the start of the project, we have three high-level ways to overlook the project.

  1. You can see the high-level statuses with completion rates.
  2. Go to a specific element and check how it’s going.
  3. The best way is to use the IFC model for better visualization of statuses. Not only can we visualize the current situation, but we can also show the situation at any date from the past.

HR Management

Here, the users can ask for vacations, sick leaves and plan business trips. The former depends upon the approval of the HR management.

Secondly, we can see where the business trip is happening, what hotel they are staying in, and so on.

Virtual Warehouse for material planning

Our Alto ERP system has information about what details need to go into an element. A virtual warehouse database tracks how much concrete, rebars, embeds and other specific details we have currently and what we need to order. 

Delivery and trucks planning

You can see the elements in a list sorted by assembly dates. Information about the element’s weight and dimensions are also included. Based on that, you can easily select elements and add them to a specific delivery. 

Users can add more information in the shipment section. What truck should transport the element, who should drive it, and so on.

Finding elements from Warehouse

There’s an “Element Location in Warehouse” option in our Alto ERP system, where you can find where are the other elements that will go with the same delivery and place them together. Then you can use the scanner to save the current element location in the Warehouse. The most essential part is retrieving the elements from the warehouse when the delivery truck arrives.

Fabrication planning

The prefab manufacturing plan for production tables allows you to add elements on specific tables at specific dates. Just drag-and-drop elements on virtual tables. The system actually gives automated suggestions on what pallet to place each element.

You can see how these elements fit on tables. You can even put two or three small elements on the same table if they fit and if they dont fit, you will get a warning error.

It is a great feature because this way its much easier to plan the fabrication of the elements and at the beginning of each day the fabricators can quickly print out the list of the elements with all the drawings.

How does machine learning works in Alto ERP?

Karlis: You enter the production time and cost estimate for the element once manually. Consider a three-layered wall that has a specific thickness, size, rebar, etc. The system compares certain parameters and detects a similarity between the wall you have completed and the one that is coming up.

We also have a ton of ideas in our heads that we haven’t yet put into action. For instance, a scanner that displays an augmented reality image of the fabrication table could be installed on the production facility’s ceiling.

By taking it a step further, we also hope to be more imaginative. If you can walk onto an empty construction site, pull out a screen, and see your future house located in the ideal location, like Trimble, that can be fantastic. The same technology, where you can see the 3D virtual image in front of you, should soon be available for precast production.

Robert: On the machine learning topic, where you have to put the numbers in manually first, the system kind of works as a helper. You can test them later and modify them if needed. The system is unquestionably useful, but humans remain in command. At most, the system can notify you, but you will have the authority to make the changes anytime.

How long does the Alto ERP implementation take?

Karlis: Theoretically, you would take less time, like some other tasks. It only takes two weeks, and during that time you have numerous meetings or work in various sprints, even though you might have only worked two days. As a result, I would say that after shaking hands and saying, “Okay, let’s do it,” we would likely meet for several sessions spread out over two or three weeks. 

Or, to put it another way, we talk about what you’re doing now, what you want to change, and how it works with our Alto ERP system. After that, we essentially go back and think about it for two weeks, trying to sketch a realistic image. The setup of all the technical details might take another two weeks. 

The key users may then attend a few scattered training sessions for two weeks. Finally, just holding hands for the upcoming month.

It doesn’t take a lot of time overall. Meetings, conversations, and consideration of various issues are all part of it. The minimum timeframe, in my opinion, is two months.

What are the biggest gains in terms of profit using these advanced ERP systems?

Robert: Yes, in the long run, it is profitable. Either you save money or you just earn more. The gain comes from various fields. The ERP system’s error-reporting or claim feature is the first, as I already explained. The fact that the system can catch them makes individuals more cautious. It knows what everyone is up to.

Second, suppose you discover a defective element. You no longer need to run around and send emails to everyone. Simply make use of the option that allows you to contact the relevant department. The workforce can save a lot of time and effort when planning is user-friendly and optimized. Alto ERP also helps to utilize your workforce and their time better and this way again increase revenue.

So, in summary, it’s the whole Alto ERP system that is profitable, not just a specific feature that solves some real problem from real life.

What are the future plans with Alto ERP?

Karlis: In Northern Europe and Europe at large, Tekla is currently the precast industry standard. So we’ll keep integrating with it to maintain the connection.

Secondly, we want to simplify the implementation so that it is not complex like other large ERP systems. These systems take an eternity, and you have consultants all over the place charging money for just meetings.

Anyway, to start using the Alto ERP system, you need some training. Besides, we are looking forward to adding even more features. A sophisticated automatic planning system that has a lot more parameters. For example, you can choose the color of the concrete, its size, thickness, and so on. 

This will also help with the reusability of the molds. It’s not always about the deadline. One might say, let’s make all the items that have the same shape this week. Even though the shipping is two months ahead. Storing the molds in a warehouse is cheaper than actually producing new ones each week. 

Overall, we are taking into account the public’s feedback. Also, UPB has a lot in mind. So, we will see what’s needed along the way.

The Future of Building Information Modelling

Karlis: In my opinion, only a small number are using augmented reality. The early adopters are walking around with the AR goggles, but you won’t find many doing the same. Regarding BIM, more businesses will begin implementing it. 

Tekla is currently using 3D IFC models. Some companies did it five years ago. Others still view it as the future. So, BIM will become the standard sooner rather than later.

What’s in for BIM? I’m not sure, but I think it’s augmented reality. It is the software interacting with one another. Tekla is used to design the item, with another software handling quantity takeoff. Then you feed the data back to the tendering software, which gives the price. The customer receives this. So it is all in synchronization when being operated with tekla. 

Robert: I agree with Karlis that the companies will realize the worth of BIM models when they start using them more. They believe they can continue working without these models because they have done so for 10, 20, and even 30 years. But once they see how effective it can be, they’ll want to put it into practice without a doubt.

The adaptation of BIM is slow at the moment. However, as more people start to talk about it, it will soon increase exponentially.

Final words and recommendations

Karlis: Firstly, thanks for having me. I’d say, companies must eventually adopt BIM-related software. When you start to feel the heat and things require more effort, there’s always software out there for every problem. 

All you have to do is take baby steps at first focusing on one thing at a time. Although you might have some difficulty initially, you will soon be able to operate the ERP system.

Robert: I would also like to thank you for inviting me. I hope more people start taking into consideration not only our Alto ERP system but also Tekla. Using babies as an example, giving birth hurts, but the joy you feel afterward is immeasurable.  

Similarly, Tekla will initially be difficult to use if you have previously used simpler software. But if you persevere through the pain, there will be a reward and satisfaction that you can’t get anywhere else. Your building information models will be much better, and you can easily manage your projects with Tekla.




Episode #6 of our Tekla podcast features Raido Schiff from Esplan. It is a construction designing company in Estonia. They have been one of the tops for 30+ years now and continue to make their mark in the construction design industry. A few of their master designs include the Ülemiste City high-rise, Rocca Towers, Tallinn University of Technology, Mickey’s Kindergarten, and Kääriku Sports Center.

ESPLAN - creating digital synergy

The application of Tekla in Esplan is what this article will discuss. Besides, there will be many details about the company itself. How they operate, what they do, how they collaborate, and so forth. For this reason, we have invited Raido Schiff to come and share his experience with us. He has been using Tekla since 2012 and has been working for Esplan as a structural engineer since 2016.

Tekla Podcast #6 - Tekla journey (Raido Schiff from Esplan)

or listen it in audio format here:

Don’t have time to watch the whole pod? Skim the questions and answers summary in a written format below! 👇

What was the first version of Tekla for you?

Well, it was version 16. It was the first one I saw and used.

How did you start learning Tekla structures?

To begin with, I went to work as a technician in Maru Ehitus. Firstly, I started by making shop drawings and general arrangement drawings for steel structures. Afterward, I got a small modeling job and it was followed by a large modeling job. Then I went to Esplan and took my Tekla experience alongside. 

So, I started using Tekla there. At that time, I was the only one from the structural department using modeling software. Fast forward to today, and everyone at Esplan is using modeling software. We no longer rely only on AutoCAD 2D drawings.  

Why did Esplan choose Tekla Structures? Even though it isn’t the cheapest software

We were comparing Tekla with Autodesk Revit and Nemetschek Allplan at that time. We were only using concrete modeling licenses back then, so the price difference wasn’t significant. In that plan, we didn’t do shop drawings. They were for a different project phase. We finished our detailed design with the general arrangement drawings.  

I tried using Revit for work, but it wasn’t for me. It was more complex.

And that’s how we started using Tekla. I was the first to use it. However, I began giving tips and tricks to my co-workers in the structural department. Thus, all nine of us are modeling right now. Some work on the design and analysis while others are on the models. But anyway, we are all Tekla-capable now.

How did you start working for a company from scratch and teach users to use Tekla?

It wasn’t very easy or smooth. I discovered a lot in the process. I started by setting up templates and the usual naming schemes for modeling parts and objects. Afterward, we created company standards for naming and then numbering various items. 

Then I asked you for assistance. So, thank you for all the advice. We currently have a huge table for our modeling standards. You can always find it open on the modeling team’s secondary screen. Also, we have our default object settings.

About the teaching part, the first thing everyone did was complete the tasks to study on the Tekla campus (https://www.tekla.com/solutions/campus/students). Therefore, that was where all the new guys and girls started. But still, whenever they had questions, I thankfully had their answers.

What would you recommend to companies starting from scratch? How can they avoid mistakes?

First, they should have a detailed manual on how to use the standards. Secondly, if, let’s say, someone doesn’t know anything about engineering drawings, structural engineering, or structure modeling, then a few seminars on the topic would help. 

But otherwise, I don’t have any advice except to start using the software. You will eventually get better with time.

Advice for users making rookie mistakes and the Importance of Modelling rules

Raido: Model hygiene. For instance, something that has improper prefixes or other filter settings won’t function properly in the drawings. That’s mostly the problem for beginners.

Sten: Tekla drawing automization rules are connected directly to the Tekla model and how it has been built up. Whenever I work for a company, I ask for their modeling rules.

You won’t believe how many times they ask “Why is it important to you?” The modeling rules will be our first focus. They are the basis for everything, particularly optimization and automization.

Raido: The workplace where I began got a huge project from a French engineering company. They also gave us a manual comprising 150–170 pages. And it had me falling off my chair. But now I understand why all of it was needed. 

Sten: The example of McDonald’s comes to mind. Wherever you go, the taste of hamburger remains the same. That is the importance of having a consistent manual and checklist. Keep it short and simple.

How can we improve the quality and minimize mistakes in Tekla models?

The best advice would be to take your time and thoroughly examine your models. The issue is that there isn’t enough time.

I advise that you make your models in accordance with the standards. Use as many standard objects and Tekla Warehouse (https://warehouse.tekla.com/) components as you can. This will save you from doing manual labor for a while. 

Model checking, clash checking, and checklists are all important. Additionally, ask others to double-check the model. If one or two guys do it, there are more chances for mistakes to go undetected. Extra checks will only be beneficial.

Furthermore, I would suggest looking over the model daily. Because if you directly look at the result after two months, you won’t be able to identify the small mistakes.

To sum up, thorough checks are the way to go

Which checklist are you following?

I primarily use checklists for structural design and detailing. One checklist is to check all the reports and then cast units. Moreover, it helps in identifying if there are any embeds without a cast unit or dummy bolts.

How can we raise the efficiency in Tekla and finish the projects faster?

Again, the answer is similar to what I gave for the quality question. Use the premade components instead of making them yourself. Because manual work will consume a lot of time. Besides, it is more likely to have errors. Repetition and using the same solutions in multiple projects will provide efficiency.

What kind of tools do you use in Esplan?

We mostly use Peikko components and embeds in Estonia. As for the custom components, we have created for example for rebars around and inside hollow cores. It was because we didn’t find any good standard components for hollow cores in the Tekla Warehouse.

However, Tekla own tools and components are getting better and better. Reinforced concrete, sandwich wall elements, and window detailing are all things that we use a lot.

What other software do you use?

For analysis, we use Autodesk Robot Structural Analysis and Strusoft FEM-Design.

From IFC viewers for example BIMcollab Zoom. I like the keyboard shortcuts from there and the possibility to view all ifc models from different disciplines. I also like the section box feature and the opportunity to save your views.

How do you collaborate with others in Esplan?

We have a couple of short meetings with the design team every week. And here we discuss all the issues ranging from clash checks to the rest of the information. Moreover, we use instant messaging to talk with each other from home. Of course, we communicate in the office as well.

Furthermore, we try to solve the issues that anyone is facing and keeping track of them. Most of the discussion takes place in Microsoft Teams. However, we raise the issue in BIMcollab. Because if we present the issue in Teams, it will be lost in the daily flood of messages.

What are the Checking points for BIM models?

Although it isn’t my area of expertise, we have team coordinators and BIM managers for that. For this, they use the Solibri model checker. For various project parties, they ensure that the floors and sections are identical and that all of the coordinates match. If you’re talking about the third floor, everyone should be talking about it and not any other area.

Well, every project is interesting and special at Esplan. We work on a lot of different projects. They include office buildings, apartment buildings, schools, kindergartens, municipality buildings, factories, and so on. 

If we talk about a specific one, then there’s a school project that I can show. The reason it was interesting and a bit complex was its architecture. It has these large cantilevers and is a triangular structure sandwiched between a rectangular and a round one. 

Due to the building’s limited space, it was challenging to fit everything that was needed inside. We had to arrange all of the HVAC equipment on various paths and awnings.

Another thing is that we have many structures here. Precast wall elements, steel elements, frame structures with timber beams, and a lot more small detail.

How goes the Project workflow in Esplan?

Usually, we begin with the preliminary design. The client and the architecture team then discuss the client’s vision. The structural engineer also aids in identifying the locations that can support loads. If it’s another one of those difficult projects, we’ll start modeling the structural model right away.

After that, we proceed to the main design and begin the analysis. With time, the design keeps becoming more and more detailed. We also send these preliminary drawings without annotations or dimensions so that everyone can use them as references.

How do you divide the workload in Esplan? Does one person do all the work or are there teams where each person does a part of it?

Ideally, it should be a one-man show. A responsible structural engineer starts the project and concludes it as well. But unfortunately, due to a strict schedule, one person can’t handle all the analyzing and other details by himself or herself. 

Therefore, we work in teams and divide the project. For example, one person is working on piles and foundations that concern underground construction and another structural engineer works on the construction above ground. 

Other individuals make and validate the models. To track who is doing what and where, we use a lot of spreadsheets.

Additionally, the project managers manage some tasks using Jira software and for tracking spent man hours. However, there are so many tasks that adding them all at once could cause Jira to crash. As a result, the engineers don’t bother the project managers and keep the small tasks to themselves.

Do you use Google Drive, Excel Sheets, or any other special documents in Esplan?

Yes, we use cloud spreadsheets, which everyone can edit. It also helps keep the information circulating so everyone remains up-to-date.

How does the Jira software go with Tekla and Structural engineers?

Apart from the spreadsheets, you could use Jira for everything, but it would be inconvenient. The project managers use Jira Gantt charts after estimating the time of different project parts.

What kind of information and data do you track with the Power Bi software?

Power BI is used for both time tracking and issue management. It shows a graphically understandable chart depicting the active and closed issues. It also shows how the project is going. Moreover, they use it to see how much time has been spent on a specific project.

Do you track the time with Power BI or another software?

We log our time in Jira, and then it magically appears somewhere. In addition, people put little information about what they did. We mostly have three to four tasks for each project, or at least that’s what I have. We don’t go very detailed in Jira since it will be hard to find the right tasks of the right project in it if there are too many.

Do you use user-defined attributes in Tekla?

Mostly, we make use of the attributes that are already in Tekla. Though we had a couple of user-defined attributes for numbering stuff since we were using construction modeling licenses. And this license doesn’t let you automatically number stuff in Tekla. 

The other UDAs we had were for governmental projects, which is also a basic national requirement.

What are the future plans of Esplan with Tekla?

Working with graphite licenses as they have more features than construction modeling. It provides numbering possibility for rebars and then cast-in-place concrete. So, we need to adjust our current system accordingly. 

But yes, we will continue using Tekla because there isn’t a better alternative. It is the fastest and most efficient way to model structures. Besides, it has a lot of tools for detailing.

Where do you see the Construction industry in 5 to 10 years?

I hope they start using models on-site. As of now, it is very rare. Of course, augmented reality will aid in the verification of all details, from the piping to tolerances. 

It would indeed be revolutionary if the construction industry starts using the models on-site. As a result, we would not be making so many drawings as well.

Any last words, wishes, or recommendations?

Just stay safe and stay healthy.